- - Tuesday, November 20, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Nancy Pelosi, that avatar “of San Francisco values,” received a note of support from an unlikely ally the other day. She got a fan letter from Donald Trump. Against a backdrop of the gossip, some more informed than other, that she might not get enough votes in her caucus to regain the speakership, the president tweeted: “I can get Nancy Pelosi as many votes as she wants in order for her to be Speaker of the House. She deserves this victory, she has earned it. But there are those in her party who are trying to take her away. She will win!”

President Trump, who knows where his bread is buttered, is being shrewd here. Rep. Pelosi, who last served as speaker from 2007 to 2011, is one of the least popular politicians in the United States. Only 17 percent of Americans approve of the job she’s doing, according to a Monmouth University poll taken earlier this month. Even among Democrats, her approval is at a nine-year low, according to Gallup. She’ll be a useful foil for Mr. Trump as he barrels into his 2020 re-election campaign.

Nor can she match Mr. Trump for charisma. The president has every reason for wanting her to take back the gavel. He is being clever to stir up discord within the Democratic caucus. Why wouldn’t he encourage the new House majority to open the session with a fractious fight among themselves?

Mrs. Pelosi’s main problem with her caucus is that she is “old” and “white” in a Democratic Party that is increasingly neither; and, indeed, in a party where both of those neutral descriptors are usually hurled as epithets. The party seems determined to get rid of old white ladies. Now 78 years old, the former speaker has served in Congress, representing San Francisco, since 1987. She has led the Democratic caucus in the House since 2003. The rest of the Democratic leadership in the House is getting on in years, too. Steny Hoyer, Maryland congressman and Democratic whip, is 79. South Carolina’s Jim Clyburn, third in command, is 78. More than 75 percent of the Democratic House Caucus has never known a leader but Mrs. Pelosi.

The caucus appears to be getting antsy. Seventeen House Democrats have signed a letter pledging they will not back Mrs. Pelosi’s bid for leadership. Because the speaker is elected by the entire House, the loss of 17 votes represents a serious blow to Mrs. Pelosi’s chances in a chamber where the Democrats will control something like 235 seats. (Some races remain still uncalled.) The Democrats alone will vote November 28 for speaker; Mrs. Pelosi will probably win, but may lose just enough Democrats to fail when the issue moves to the full House. That’s why the president offered Republican votes to push her over the top. Those votes may be crucial.

“We promised to change the status quo and we intend to deliver on that promise,” wrote the renegades, who include rising Democratic stars like Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio, as well as incoming freshmen like Joe Cunningham of South Carolina. The candidate who was touted as Mrs. Pelosi’s likeliest opponent, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, signed the letter. She dropped out late Tuesday.

Ms. Fudge, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was an odd “candidate of change.” Sixty-six years old, she has served in Congress for a decade. She has praised Mrs. Pelosi as “a very good speaker,” making the challenge to her leadership a bit baffling.

Baffling, too, is that while Mrs. Pelosi faces stiff opposition even after her party took back the House, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York has cruised along in the Senate, re-elected minority leader without any competition. Measured by results achieved, Mr. Schumer is as bad at his job as Mrs. Pelosi is at hers, if not worse. He’s remarkably unpopular; Gallup pegs his national approval rating at 29 percent. Not only that, while Mrs. Pelosi’s Democrats won dozens of seats this year, the Democratic minority actually shrank. For this Mr. Schumer is rewarded.

We’re not quite sure why this should be, but we are sure of the favorite Democratic explanation for everything else that goes bad: Sexism made ‘em do it, whatever “it” was. And, to be perfectly politically correct, shouldn’t that be “genderism”?

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